GOP Makes Significant Gains in Governorships

GOP Makes Significant Gains in Governorships

By Scott Conroy - November 3, 2010

The Republican Party picked up at least 10 governorships from Democrats on Tuesday and could win more than that by the time the final votes have been tallied in all 37 gubernatorial races. The GOP's strong showing could have profound implications for redistricting efforts and for the 2012 presidential campaign.

Every Republican governor running for re-election won on Tuesday, and two incumbent Democrats lost their races: Iowa Governor Chet Culver and Ohio Governor Ted Strickland.

Strickland's loss to former Republican Congressman John Kasich was particularly painful for the White House, as members of the administration - including President Obama - campaigned frequently on his behalf. Strickland was thought to have run a strong campaign but could not overcome the prevailing winds that swept Republicans into power across the Midwest and left Obama with a higher hurdle to climb in mounting his re-election bid in the critical swing state.

Republican gubernatorial candidates also won governorships currently held by Democrats in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Michigan, Kansas, Nevada, Oklahoma and New Mexico.

In the New Mexico race, Republican Susana Martinez will become the state's first female governor, as she defeated current Democratic Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish, whose candidacy was hampered by low approval ratings for the state's current chief executive, Bill Richardson.

In South Carolina, GOP rising star Nikki Haley became that state's first female governor. She beat back a late fundraising push by national Democrats and fought off unsubstantiated personal allegations that threatened to derail her campaign to replace outgoing Republican Governor Mark Sanford.

And in one of the premiere contests of the night, Republican Rick Scott narrowly defeated Democrat Alex Sink in Florida.

Though his name was not on the ballot this year, another big Republican winner was Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. As Chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Barbour was able to take credit for the string of key Republican victories, boosting his clout as he decides whether to mount a campaign for the presidency early next year.

"Republican control of the majority of 2012 swing states is a major roadblock to the president's re-election and a repudiation of his policies," Barbour wrote in a statement to reporters. "These states are the bellwethers of the nation, and they've sent a firm message to Washington that America wants smaller government and more freedom."

The Republican victories in governors' races were particularly significant since they came in a census year in which redistricting could put the GOP in a position to make gains over the course of the next decade.

In a tough night for Democrats, one of the brightest spots was in Massachusetts, where incumbent Governor Deval Patrick won re-election by defeating Republican Charlie Baker and independent candidate Tim Cahill.

President Obama campaigned for Patrick down the home stretch, and the result marked a big victory for a White House with close ties to the Massachusetts Democrat. Patrick remains the country's only African-American governor.

In California, Jerry Brown - who first took office in 1975 - proved himself to be one of the comeback kids of the night, as he defeated Republican billionaire Meg Whitman - the largest self-funded candidate in American political history.

In three other gubernatorial contests, the results remained too close to call as of early Wednesday morning.

Former NBA journeyman center Republican Chris Dudley also held a 1 percent lead over Democrat John Kitzhaber in Oregon, with 77 percent of precincts reporting. Kitzhaber is vying to return to the governorship after serving two terms from 1995 to 2003, while Dudley is hoping to become the first Republican governor of Oregon in 23 years.

In Illinois, Democrat Pat Quinn was in a dead heat with Republican Bill Brady with 93 percent of the vote having been tallied.

And in Vermont, Democrat Peter Shumlin held a one percent lead over Republican Brian Dubie with 76 percent of precincts reporting.

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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